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How to Make Digital Comics for Beginners

M. T. Dremer studied graphic design at Muskegon Community College and has been using Adobe Photoshop for more than a decade.

A sample digital comic.

A sample digital comic.

Mapping Out Your Story

The first thing you want to do when making your own comic or graphic novel is to map out your story. This is important to do first because when you are creating the art later, you don’t want to spend hours drawing or rendering a sequence, only to delete it all later because the story went in a different direction. You won’t need to create all of it in detail before hand, because sometimes ideas pop up as you go, but you want a road map so that you can set goals for yourself and create the art faster.

Since this is a visual medium of storytelling, a good way to write your outline/first draft is in the form of a script, because it includes things like stage direction, setting essentials for each scene, and dialogue. If you’ve never written a script, now might be a good time to start. There are a number of books available on how to write plays, or you can read my hub about it here. Or, you can just read other scripts to familiarize yourself with formatting and style. Since this is just serving as a road map for your comic, it doesn't have to be perfect. Also, as you’re writing your script, try to break it up into increments so that you can get an idea of where a page and/or chapter break might show up. Some can be longer than others, but without any breaks the story might not flow with the pace that you want it to.

Also, as you’re writing keep in mind the length of each character’s dialogue. Remember, this is a comic, not a novel. The pictures should be telling part of the story; you don’t want a word bubble crowding out the artwork, if you can help it. So try to keep it short, or find a way to break up a long speech throughout multiple frames.

My basic storyboard for a clumsy wizard.

My basic storyboard for a clumsy wizard.

Make a Storyboard

The script you wrote is going to be a pretty good indicator of where the story needs to go, but it is also crucial to draw up a storyboard. There is no need to get fancy with this; do it on lined paper with a pencil and draw as poorly as you like. You just want it as a reference so that you know the general types of pictures you would need on each page. For example, if your character is giving a long speech, you would need a lot of pictures of them talking with room for dialogue. But on a page where it is all action, you wouldn’t need as much space for dialogue and you would let the pictures do the storytelling. This can also be used to map out dramatic close ups, character positioning, and negative space.

Now, I refer to this article as making your own digital comics, but it’s the same process for making a graphic novel. Making these is time consuming, especially since you will probably be making it alone. So don’t worry too much about the length. Just tell the story that you want to tell and it will be as long as it needs to be. Worry about length once you realize if this is something you really enjoy doing.

I'm not very good at drawing people, so I rely on rendering software. Here are the base images before they're compiled into a page.

I'm not very good at drawing people, so I rely on rendering software. Here are the base images before they're compiled into a page.

The Art

If you happen to be a naturally gifted artist, then consider yourself lucky. I myself struggle when it comes to drawing people so if I illustrated my own graphic novel it would look pretty pitiful. If you are going the drawing route then you will need a scanner to upload your images to a computer, or if you have a digital drawing pad, you could draw your illustrations right into art programs.

However there are ways around this. Art programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are great tools for creating cleaner art than you might have been able to draw. These programs will also be essential when you decide to compile your pages. However the best programs for people who might not have the drawing talent are 3D rendering applications like Poser and DAZ Studio, the latter of which can be obtained for free online. These programs allow you to take three dimensional characters, animals and settings and compile them into a scene that you can render and save to your computer. For those wishing to know more you can consult my Beginners Guide to 3D art and DAZ Studio.

Whether you draw your pictures or render them, you’re going to be doing it a lot. I discovered early into my first comic just how many pictures I would need to make. I rendered over 100 pictures for a 23 page comic. This is why it’s important to map out your story and storyboard before hand, otherwise I could have easily rendered over 200.

This is one example of some measurements you can use. But you'll learn early on that there is a lot of adjusting needed to get all the pictures to fit and flow.

This is one example of some measurements you can use. But you'll learn early on that there is a lot of adjusting needed to get all the pictures to fit and flow.

A rough but final result.

A rough but final result.

Compiling Your Work

The work you do to compile the Graphic Novel can be tedious sometimes, but it can also be the most rewarding part of the process. You’ll have to adjust the pictures to fit while cropping them and adjusting their colors. You’ll have to add in the dialogue, thought, and action bubbles into the images and overall make it look like a comic. However, once you’ve done all of this, seeing the final product is quite gratifying, and it can make your simple script come alive.

There are no set parameters for the size of the page or the size of the picture cells, at least, not when you’re creating one just for fun. I’ve provided some general dimensions just to get you started in the image to the right, but feel free to experiment with image placement and overlapping as you go. It’s a fun medium to play around with and since you’re doing this for your own reasons, don’t be afraid to experiment or do something wrong. You can always correct it later if it doesn’t work out.

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If you would like to know more about how to edit your pictures in photoshop you can consult my Guide to Basic Photo Editing, but I’ve laid out some basic tools to know below:

Photoshop Tools to Know:

-Crop (found in the left hand menu)

Allows you to quickly cut away part of an image you don’t want.

-Copy/Paste (Found in the edit menu)

Allows you to bring your scanned drawings or renders into a single comic page.

-Scale (Found edit menu under ‘transform’)

Allows you to shrink an image layer. Hold shift while you do it to maintain the aspect ratio.

-Color Balance (Found in the image menu under ‘adjustments’)

Allows you to add specific colors to the image.

-Brightness/Contrast (Found in the image menu under ‘adjustments’)

Allows you to adjust the brightness and contrast of an image.

-Poster Edges (Found in the filter menu under 'Artistic')

Gives your renders a 'comic' look with outlines and color adjusting.


M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on August 04, 2011:

minimal_mystic - You're welcome, thanks for the comment!

minimal_mystic from Coast of South Africa on August 03, 2011:

helpful article , thanks bro

M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on April 19, 2011:

waynet - Thank you for the compliment! I hope your graphic novel is still progressing!

Rusty - Thank you! I think my storyboard is the funniest picture. ;)

Rusty C. Adore on January 29, 2010:

This was a great article! I love the photo examples!

Wayne Tully from Hull City United Kingdom on January 28, 2010:

This is an excellent guide that gives the general steps to make this a reality, I've got one in the works and it's a hand drawn and inked, lettered effort which I am just excited about.


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